After an exciting opening phase of the Giro, Egan Bernal holds a tantalising 14-second lead over Remco Evenepoel at the top of the standings – with the entire top 10 separated by just over one minute. It’s perfectly poised for a thrilling second phase – starting with the Tuscan dirt roads to Montalcino and ending at Cortina in the Dolomites via Monte Zoncolan.
The third phase of the race will include three bumper mountain slogs and the final time trial into Milan. It will be here that the race is won, and of course the picture may be very different in a week’s time during the second rest day. But judging on their performances so far, their age, experience and history in the race, how will the top 10 look come Milan?
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Already, George Bennett (Jumbo-Visma) will be forced to hunt stage wins while spectating on the fight for pink from afar, the New Zealander sitting more than 10 minutes down on GC. It’s also been a pretty torrid opening phase for the two revelations of last year’s Giro – Australia’s Jai Hindley (Team DSM) and Portugal’s Joao Almeida (Deceunick Quick-Step).
Last year’s runner-up, Hindley is 4’27” down and will struggle to make the top 10 while Almeida, who wore pink for two weeks, is now at Evenepoel’s beck and call after shipping similar levels of time in the first summit finish above Ascoli Piceno. You also fear for the chances of Pello Bilbao of Bahrain-Victorious, the Spanish climber having slipped back following a fall days after his compatriot and team leader Mikel Landa cruelly crashed out.
Of course, one good day could change everything, but Bilbao needs to make up 3’26” so it won’t be easy. Here is Felix Lowe’s predicted top 10 in reverse order…

‘It’s a trailer for next week!’ – Bernal v Evenepoel in surprise sprint

10. Davide Formolo (UAE Team Emirates)

Currently tenth at 1’02”, Formolo has twice finished tenth in the Giro and so tenth place seems about right for a predicted finish. Following teammate Joe Dombrowski’s withdrawal – one day after the American won stage 5 – Formolo is the only focal point of UAE’s scattergun GC quest. He’s been pretty solid on the hills and has staying power in the high mountains. Tenth is all but inevitable.

9. Damiano Caruso (Bahrain-Victorious)

With Landa out and Bilbao down, Caruso has become Bahrain-Victorious’s de facto best bet for a high finish in Milan. The dependable Italian put in a daring attack on Sunday ahead of teammate Matej Mohoric’s horrific crash so he clearly has confidence in his legs. Eighth overall in 2015 shows he has the know-how, and he could dovetail nicely with Bilbao in the mountains. Besides, it’s not as if Bahrain’s luck can get any worse, surely?

8. Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo)

There was always a suspicion that it would be Ciccone and not the Sicilian veteran Vincenzo Nibali who would end up spearheading Trek’s GC campaign. Nibali is still only two minutes off the pace but the veteran doesn’t have his previous third-week staying power and he is still coming back from a broken wrist. Ciccone, meanwhile, looked superb on the sterrato at Campo Felice (which bodes well for Wednesday's stage over the Tuscan strade bianche to Montalcino) and will relish the chance for a second career win on Monte Zoncolan. The Shark is dead? Long live his dauphin.

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7. Romain Bardet (Team DSM)

The Frenchman has been quietly assured in his maiden Giro performance, sitting just 1’21” down and currently in thirteenth place. With Hindley coming a cropper, Bardet will lead DSM entering the proper mountains – and he looks in the kind of form he was at last year’s Tour before his crash in the Massif Central. There are still question marks, however, so the top five looks unlikely at this point.

6. Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation)

The Irishman has every reason to be happy about his opening 10 days in Italy: he’s avoided crashing (usually a sore point) and has lost no significant time, sitting in eighth just 52 seconds down. He’ll rise up the standings but be won’t better his Grand Tour high of fourth from last year’s Vuelta – primarily because he’ll find himself ridiculously isolated in the mountains when the hammer goes down.

5. Dani Martinez (Ineos Grenadiers)

Six months after Ineos back-up Tao Geoghegan Hart won the Giro, their current Plan C ain’t doing so bad, either. With Pavel Sivakov sadly out after his latest unfortunate spill, Martinez’s stock has risen. The Colombian is currently acting as a pivot launch pad for his compatriot Bernal, often putting in a softener attack to pave the way on a key climb. But the former EF Education man is only 1’13” down himself and could ride up the standings and into his highest GC finish by virtue of his support role.

Highlights: Sagan wins after Bernal v Evenepoel in surprise sprint

4. Aleksandr Vlasov (Astana-Premier Tech)

For a few minutes on Monday, the Russian found himself just one second behind Bernal and in second place on the standings. This may have later been amended by the race jury – but getting himself on the right side of a split following a crash in the final kilometre underlines the 25-year-old’s nous in what is, to all intents and purposes, his debut Grand Tour. Illness meant he didn’t even last two days in last year’s Giro; on this form, he’ll be pushing for the podium six months later.

3. Hugh Carthy (EF Education-Nippo)

The taciturn Lancashire rouleur has been quietly commanding in Italy – which pretty well reflects his persona. Yet to put a foot wrong, Carthy hasn’t also really been tested as yet – or done any testing himself. But his performance on the Angliru in last year’s Vuelta suggests he’ll be just as comfortable on the Zoncolan and beyond, putting the 26-year-old surely on course to at least match his career-best GC result in Spain.

2. Egan Bernal (Ineos Grenadiers)

It would take a brave man to bet against the Colombian, who certainly seems to have returned to his best after a tricky year and a half beset by a back pain. But this Giro’s barely got started – and barely approached the kind of 2,000m climbs which saw Bernal struggle so much in last year’s Tour. A strong Ineos team around him will help but losing Sivakov will be a blow and even the 24-year-old admits that he still feels pain in his back.
All it would take is one bad day and Bernal’s maglia rosa push could be over. After all, no one has won the Giro since being in pink in Stage 9 since Alberto Contador in 2015…

'I did not make any effort, so why not?' - Bernal on surprise intermediate sprint

1. Simon Yates (Team BikeExchange)

The British rider has been pretty much invisible since Turin – a sign, perhaps, that he’s learned from his 2018 campaign where he visibly marauded his way to three stage wins before blowing up with considerable gusto while in pink on the Colle delle Finestre. He may be a DS down after Gene Bates was booted off the race for driving into the back of Pieter Serry, but Yates seems to have enough tactical acumen of his own – and of all the viable GC contenders, he has the most relevant experience to draw from in his push for pink.

Where’s Remco?

A pertinent question, seeing that the Belgian tyro is currently just 14 seconds off the race summit after his intermediate sprint tussle with Bernal on Monday. But forget about winning the thing – even a top 10 in his maiden Grand Tour after the injury layoff he’s endured is surely a bridge too far?
Remco Evenepoel has ridden exceptionally well so far, not least to see off the internal threat following teammate Almeida’s early slump and establish himself as the bona fide Deceuninck Quick-Step leader. But you’d expect the high mountains to be too much for a rider not so much short of race days as, well, having none of them all season. That third week could see “The New Merckx” become more Axel than Eddy.

‘It was a lot of energy to use’ – Was Bernal v Evenepoel sprint wise?

Likewise, you’d expect the former pink jersey Attila Valter (Groupama-FDJ) to drop out of the top 10 despite the Hungarian’s solid race so far. Marc Soler (Movistar) and Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe) may feel aggrieved to miss out given they’re only 1’21” and 1’47” down respectively but, well, something’s got to give, and they haven’t set their debut Giri alight just yet.
Return next week for the second rest day blog for a revision of these predictions where Felix Lowe will either blow his own trumpet or wipe the egg from his face. In the meantime, you can big him up or lay into his ignorance on Twitter @saddleblaze.
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